So how many of all y’all have heard about the cheating scandal that’s ripping the Air Force apart right now?
Turns out that the 500 men and women charged with monitoring, managing and (hopefully never) launching our nation’s nuclear weapons are tested three times a month on “missile safety, code handling and launch procedures.” Testing results are used to make high-stakes employment decisions. Missileers who fail to score a 100 on each of these tests are regularly passed over for promotions. What’s more, scores of less than a 100 on each of these tests are seen as a poor reflection on the individual missileer’s work team AND direct supervisor.
To prevent this embarrassment, missileers have embraced an age-old tradition in fields where high-stakes tests are used to make employment decisions: They’re cheating.
“There were hundreds of officers at my wing at Malmstrom, and I don’t think that I know anybody who didn’t cheat,” says Bruce Blair — a former launch officer.
“Everybody cheats on every test that they can, and they have for decades,” said another former officer who declined to be identified for fear of retribution. “Maybe 5 percent [of the officers] don’t. But they know about it.”
Good stuff, huh? But it gets better: Commanding officers regularly reviewed the exams of the soldiers in their charge, pointing out mistakes before the tests were scored. “I know a couple of commanders — and I did this a couple of times — who said before their deputy’s test was turned in, ‘Let me see it,’ and told them go back and look at a question,” said Brian Weeden, a launch officer at Malmstrom Air Force Base from 2001-2004.
To date, 92 missileers have been dismissed in the scandal. When asked to explain their cheating, soldier after soldier reported that the high-stakes nature of the Air Force testing program had created a “climate of undue stress and fear…fear about their futures, fear about promotions, fear about what will happen to them in their careers.”
As Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force, explained in a recent press conference, “Although the standard on our tests … a passing grade on these tests … is 90 percent, the missileers feel driven to score 100 percent all the time and this is because their commanders are using these test scores to be the top differentiator — if not the sole differentiator — on who gets promoted.”
Does this all sound familiar?
(See Atlanta’s cheating scandal, Michelle Rhee’s cheating scandal, Philadelphia’s cheating scandal, El Paso’s cheating scandal, Florida’s cheating scandal, and the grandaddy of all cheating scandals, the Houston Miracle.)
Or the more important question: Can we REALLY be surprised when people working in situations where test scores are “the top differentiator — if not the sole differentiator — on who gets promoted” cheat their way to the top? And if not, then why do we KEEP pushing for the same kinds of crappy policies in our schools?
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